Curbing curiosities with an interview with Catherine Jones Payne, an excerpt of Breakwater (and a giveaway)




By: Catherine Jones Payne

Publisher: Fathom Ink Press

Publication Date: May 30th, 2017


A red tide is rising.

As the daughter of one of the mer-king’s trusted advisors, seventeen-year-old Jade has great responsibilities. When her fiancé murders a naiad, plunging the underwater city of Thessalonike into uproar, tensions surge between the mer and the naiads. Jade learns too late that the choices she makes ripple further than she’d ever imagined. And as she fights against the tide of anger in a city that lives for scandal, she discovers danger lurking in every canal, imperiling her family and shattering the ocean’s fragile peace.

Can the city’s divisions be mended before the upwelling of hate rips apart everything Jade loves?

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1) If you emptied out your purse, wallet, desk drawer, pockets, backpack, beach bag, saddle bag, or fanny pack, what would we find?

Oh, I’d be really embarrassed if you emptied out my purse—it’s a mess! But in addition to a pile of three-year-old receipts, Jolly Rancher wrappers (don’t judge how I live my life!), and the boring, necessary stuff like my phone and wallet, you’d find my passport—just in case I ever get an awesome chance at a last-minute trip—and a ratty old notebook, in case the muse strikes while I’m out and about. Sometimes I even carry my laptop in there if I have a lot of work to get done.

2) What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a panster?

I’m a plotter all the way. I can’t finish a novel if I don’t outline it first, and I can’t outline on my computer. I usually start with a rough chapter-by-chapter outline of just two or three sentences per chapter in a ratty, spiral-bound notebook. Then, as I’m drafting, I do an event-by-event sketch of each of my scenes before I write them—I like to do my sketches the day before I draft them if possible. It’s a strategy that got me from struggling to write 500 words in a day to turning out thousands of words in a day—recently I had my first 10,000-word day.


3) Which came first: the novel or the title?

The novel! I’m terrible at titling and didn’t actually come up with the name Breakwater. The title emerged after the first draft was all the way done. I went to a group of people whose opinions I trust implicitly, and we all brainstormed together to figure out the titles for each book in the series.

4) Which do you prefer: drafting or revising?

I actually like revising more. I’m an editor by profession, so restructuring and fine-tuning feels really natural to me in a way that getting a bunch of words on the page doesn’t.

5) What is your number one writing tip?

Find your process, and finish the first draft! You know how I talked about how I sketch my scenes in advance? Breakwater was the first book I’ve ever done that with. I started using that process after Davis Bunn graciously sat down with me to troubleshoot my biggest writing problem: why words weren’t getting on the page even when I spent hours staring at the screen. And the process of sketching out the bare bones of a scene the day before writing it just clicked with me. Some writers find this more effective than others—your process might look totally different. But find the one that works, and finish the first draft. Most aspiring writers will never actually finish a book. But you can do it.

6) Describe you book in 5 words or less

Mermaids, murder, and political intrigue!

7)  A book goes through a lot of different versions and rounds of editing before it’s complete.  What are some “fun facts” or behind the scenes info you can share about the characters from your book or the world you created for it that may or may not have made it to the final draft of the book?

Oh, I love this question!

-On the Meyer’s-Briggs personality test, Jade is an ISFP.

-You get hints of this in the novel, but the mer world is very gender equal. One way that this gets expressed is in the way they receive their last names. Rather than having a family name that typically gets passed down from a father to his children, like we often see in the United States and many other Western countries, the surnames in Thessalonike are patronymic and matronymic—which means a last name based on your father’s or mother’s name. Specifically, the women’s last names come from their mother’s name, and the men’s last names come from their father’s name. So Jade’s mother’s name is Cleo, and Jade’s last name is Cleopola. Tor’s father’s name is Felix, and Tor’s last name is Felicipolos.

-Even though the mer trade with overlanders (along with inhabitants of other ocean cities) for a lot of their materials and supplies, almost all of their food and medicine comes from the ocean itself.

8) Do you have a special story behind your inspiration for the book?

I knew the setting before the story. I put together the rough-draft outline while staring out at the ocean on a beach vacation with my whole family. We’d snorkeled coral reefs and gone swimming with dolphins, which made the coral-reef world of Thessalonike so vivid in my mind.

9)  Who was your favorite character to write and who gave you the most trouble?

Benjamin—Jade’s little brother—was actually my favorite character to write. I have a fourteen-year-old nephew named Benjamin, and he’s just the greatest teenager you’ll ever meet. He’s kind and funny, and I adore him. So while Benjamin-in-the-book isn’t totally based on Benjamin-in-real-life, there are definite similarities, and he really came alive for me.

Jade gave me the most trouble for sure. It’s difficult to write a character who is both compelling and a little out-of-touch, well meaning but naïve. In the end, she couldn’t grow quite as much as I’d wanted her to in the first book. In earlier drafts, she learned more quickly, but it didn’t feel natural and organic, and it made her too responsible for the events of the story, when really it’s the naiads themselves who needed to dictate how it all ended. We’re all works-in-progress with blind spots and foibles, and I had to let her be really imperfect. Once I was able to do that, she suddenly became three-dimensional to me.

10) If you could ask a character of your choice from BREAKWATER one question what would it be?

I think I’d ask Cleo what she really thinks of the king. She serves in a position where she has to be unquestioningly loyal and publicly in agreement with everything he does. But she’s a strong, opinionated woman, and while she has a great deal of influence over him, she has to keep quiet about the things she disagrees with.

11) What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)?

I really liked how Tor’s trial turned out. That was an intimidating scene to write, but I think it ended up revealing a lot about the characters through the events that happen. In some scenes, I had to work to balance action and description, so that description of the characters and the world wouldn’t slow down the pacing, but the reader could still visualize everything. But in the trial scene, it all flowed together really well.

12) Is there a scene that you had difficulty with and just had to “power through” to finish the book? Or a scene that made you very emotional?

There’s a scene in chapter four, where Jade remembers the way her father’s death had devastated her. I wrote that out of deeply personal experience—I lost my father a few years ago—and so that scene felt very raw. That was also the only scene I flat-out rejected editorial advice on. One of my editors was worried it would come off as melodramatic and wanted me to tone it down, but I felt like if I toned it down, it wouldn’t be honest anymore.

13) What are the top five things we should know as a reader before starting BREAKWATER? (about the main character, their love interest, the antagonist, their world/home town, etc)

  1. There are countless sentient underwater creatures in the world of Breakwater but only two in Thessalonike: mer and naiads.
  2. Naiads are two-legged water nymphs. They’re shorter than the mer and native to fresh water, and they have the special ability to manipulate water. Some of them are better at it than others—their artists can form beautiful, detailed images made entirely of water—but all of them can manipulate it enough to speed through the water on currents they cast with their hands.
  3. The main character is Jade, a seventeen-year-old mermaid from an upper-class background. She’s recently graduated from school and is just about to embark on her journey into the adult world—which for the Thessalonike mer means a career ASAP and a marriage as soon as is reasonable. She’s engaged at the beginning of the book. While she’s a little younger than average to be getting married, it’s not by much. Most of the mer—men and women—are married by age twenty or twenty-one.
  4. In Thessalonike, especially among the wealthy mer, marriage can be for love and some degree of romance is expected, but—as in many wealthy societies—the establishment of a connection between two rich, powerful families is critically important. Mer can be conniving, and the nobles are always jostling for a better position in the hierarchy. There’s no law against a noblemer marrying someone from a lower social class, but it would be socially frowned upon—even scandalous.
  5. But even among the royals, cross-class marriages happen. Some of the most beloved monarchs in history married commoners—including the ancient queen that Jade was named after.

14) What is next for you? What are your currently working on?

Right now I’m drafting Book 2 in the series, as well as a short story set about three years before the events of Breakwater. I’m hoping that Book 2 will come out in early 2018, and the short story will be out later this year!

As we crossed the threshold, I noted with chagrin that we were indeed the first people at the party. “Told you so,” I whispered to Rhea.

“Jade, how delightful to see you,” my new mother-in-law, Yvonna, said with a graceful smile.

I smiled back at her, trying to hide my discomfort. I never quite knew what to say to Yvonna. While she seemed pleased enough about the engagement, I’d always suspected she personally disliked me.

“I’m so happy to be here,” I said. “You have such a lovely home.”

It was true. Their home was twice as large as ours and decorated in the same style as the king’s own reception hall. On the far wall, a trio of silver filigree dolphins—life-sized— chased a school of gold fish. Eight hundred and forty-five fish, to be precise. I’d counted them during a particularly insufferable party the month before.

We stared at each other in silence for a full ten seconds before I asked, “Is Tor around?”

“I believe he’s in the courtyard. Go in peace.”

“Thank you.” I bowed. “Peace be upon you.” I grabbed Rhea’s hand, and we drifted toward the back door.

“Oh!” Rhea whispered in my ear, looking behind us just as her fingers curled around the door handle. “Philip’s coming in! He’s perfect for making Theo jealous. See you later.”

She released the door handle and swooped down on poor, unsuspecting Philip.

I suppressed a smile.

Leave it to Rhea. With her beautiful face and all her machinations, it was a wonder she wasn’t engaged yet. Of course, she’s not as well-connected as I am. I can’t assume it’s as easy for her as it was for me.

With a final glance backward, I pushed my way into the well-appointed courtyard. Daring red anemone lined the walls just above three thin lines of bioluminaries that cast a romantic purple light on the scene.

I smiled and bit my lip. A battalion of tiny sea horses hovered around a feeder to my right.

Movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention, near Yvonna’s prized fire coral garden at the corner of the house on the far side of the courtyard. I swam toward it. “Tor?”

When I reached the fire coral, I stopped short and locked eyes with Tor. My whole body trembled. In one arm, he held the dead body of a red-haired naiad girl.



about the author

Catherine Jones Payne is a Seattle native who loves the written word, international travel, crashing waves, and good coffee. Her earliest memory involves pulling up a rolling chair to her parents’ old DOS computer—while wearing a tiara, naturally—and tapping out a story of kidnapped princesses. By day she’s the managing editor of Quill Pen Editorial and the editor of Splickety Magazine. She lives in Waco, TX with her historian husband, Brendan, and their cats, Mildred and Minerva.

Photo Credit: Lauren Munoz Maccann

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. The author image, info, giveaway, and more were provided by YA Bound Book Tours.

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